I Am a Democrat

I am a lifelong Southern Democrat. Born in the mid forties in southwest Florida, I grew up in the Jim Crow South when it was a Democratic stronghold as solid as Gibraltar. One of the most furious reactions I ever saw from anyone in my family was the time when I was (young) and, within earshot of my grandfather at a family get-together, happened to utter the phrase, “I like Ike.” His reaction was both visceral and instantaneous and, if he had not recognized me as he rose, I do believe he would have crossed the room and smote me where I stood.

I identified with those Democrats when I discovered that they spoke to the interests of labor, that they saw a role for government in providing a safety net under those who had fallen, and generally considered government a possible tool for establishing standards of protection and assistance for the wider citizenry when that was needed. They appeared to me to represent a more human(e) approach to government, to stand for a vision of the role of government that included compassion and the collective use of our financial power to advance solutions for some of the pressing social needs within the country.

I never left that Democratic Party and I never abandoned those interests or visions. It appears to me, however, that the Democrats have left me. I see what looks like a huge PAC into which has been concentrated the control of what used to be, and still is called, the Democratic Party. That PAC is essentially indistinguishable from a twin that is at the heart of the Republican Party. They are both fed by the “free speech” ($$$$$$$) of what is in effect the world community of international businesses.

The Republicans, however, in addition to maintaining their organic connection with that business community, have connected on a much wider scale to a constituency that I believe once was actually Democratic: the Church. Religion, and most especially its evangelical and more fundamental expressions, was and still is part of the bedrock of the South and those people were Democrats, solid and proud. Since the basic tenets of the Church have remained essentially unaltered for several hundred years, I must consider the likelihood that it is the Democrats that have moved and not the Church.

The Democrats have grown a symbiotic connection to the Republicans’ core constituency: Business, as that constituency has increasingly spread its very substantial power in the form of “free speech” ($$$$$$$) to the parties. Since (as they say in “South’r’n”) “Ya best dance with him as brung ya.” what is still called the Democratic Party has had to increasingly act like Republicans. Acting like Republicans while talking like Democrats has left most of the party’s constituents standing alongside the path confused and annoyed, scratching their heads and looking around trying to figure out whether they accidentally left the Party or the Party deliberately left them.

Both parties’ centers are built on the same foundation: The “free speech” (ok, ok…I’ll stop doing that..) of business, which “talks” to both, though more “loudly” to the one it thinks will win and/or act most effectively in its behalf . While the Republicans have approached and won a new and very solidly united and active constituency in the persons of the millions of faithful in the nation, the Democrats have drifted away from and lost not only that constituency but labor, in whose interests it is hard to speak when you are connected by transfusion to the very corporations for whom those people work; Greens, for the same basic reason, but the Greens see what those corporations are doing to the environment as they convert resources into capital; I think there are more to list and I think the point is made.

The Democrats try hard to distinguish themselves from the Republicans, to create distance between them, and it is hard to get very far away when you are connected to the same umbilicus or even share organs. The Party has a dilemma: It has found the riches and to access them it must leave home. It must choose. At stake is the two party system because, sooner or later, those of us from which the “center” of the party has walked away will, once again, seek to build the kind of representation and power in political expression once offered by the Democratic Party. It is an organic necessity that from within a country founded upon the most Liberal vision of government ever conceived on the planet there must arise a political expression of the values that shape that vision. Be that the Democratic Party, as it has historically been, or be it a rising third party, it will happen. Perhaps the two party system will persist in the form of the Redemopublicratican Party and a Second Party Yet to Be Named.

Democratic thinking has not disappeared. Liberal values have not lost their power. The party that calls itself Democrat has left the building.

I will be a constituent of a party that values human labor; sees government as a tool, not the answer, in ameliorating suffering and bringing social conditions toward civil resolution; that works to tax its citizens accurately and fairly and then turns those revenues to commonly agreed purposes (Yes, I do mean “tax and spend.”); that supports a military that is superior in its quality and then seeks to build alliances and partnerships with neighbors and others in the world community so that military can be used for its best and truest purpose: providing for the common defense. I will join and vote for a party that establishes civil liberties and the sanctity of citizenship as its cornerstone and builds upon that cornerstone administrations that recognize and act as though they are the property of the people and not the other way around. If those principles can be brought home to the evangelical faithful as natural to their faiths, connected to and growing from the basic tenets of the Gospel of Jesus, that’s fine with me, the party I’m talking about really is a big tent. When I hear these principles strongly and genuinely spoken and followed by actions consistent with that speaking I will seek out and support whoever that is.

Or, I shall keep speaking them myself and watch and listen for an echo or a chorus until either there is such an echo and subsequent chorus or I exhale and do not inhale again.

I am a Democrat.

Thank you for your consideration. I invite your reply.

April 18, 2006

A conjecture: Life of an Original American or Any Indigenous or Aboriginal People

Asleep in a shelter built of native materials and suited to its environment, I awaken, to what? I awaken to the morning light, to the pressure in my bladder, to the movement/sounds of the world about, to the touch of another. It is winter, cold. I dress myself in the skins of cold weather animals. Experience has long ago taught us how to use these, how to tailor them into well-cut and effective garments. We are warmly dressed. What do we eat? We have a small supply of items in our domicile: dried meat/fish, rootstocks, nuts, and legumes. If there is fresh food available in winter, we know where it is. The world in which I live is friendly, known, understood. Its resources are familiar and available. Its seasons are familiar as well, their stars, their animals, their changes; all go on around me like the lives of my family.

Dressed and fed, warm, I leave my domicile, out into the morning. The air is utterly sparkling, the sun just up. I go to a stream and from it drink clear cold water. What is my day to be about? What are my activities, what chooses where I go, with whom? It is early in the deep snow; the sun creeps farther south each day, showing his face to us for a shorter and shorter times. We prepare, near his farthest wandering, to invite him back to warm the anticipated, welcome spring. Today we hunt and forage for the food of the feast of the sun’s return. There are food animals, fur animals, and we shall go and bring the meat and fur for the happiest of the sun feasts: Sun’s turn from the Southern Journey.

We shall hunt these days and prepare, then for several days we shall not eat. There will be little happening among my people except the ending ritual. These are the short dim days. The long dark night has nibbled at the dawn and the twilight since the fall of the leaves. Longest nights and shortest days are times of reflection and prayer. At the shortest day, upon the eve of the longest night, we finish trouble among our selves; make good the injuries we haven’t healed. If we have kept that which didn’t we did not make, that which wasn’t given to us for our own, on this night we return it. If we have between us feelings that stop the tongue or lower the eyes, on this night we go to each other and speak of these things. A new time is coming, the days will lengthen as the sun takes back the night’s stolen light. The darkness of our spirits and in our relationships among ourselves is to be reclaimed at this time as well. We shall eat no gift from our land, only drink the water and soak the leaves for our drinks. It is a time to look into the darkness to see its spirits and workings, to know its ways. Long ago these were fearful times but we have come to know the sun wants to come back to us. The light wants to lengthen as the sun climbs higher and higher crossing the sky. We know these seasons are the way of our world and we live their messages. So we shall inhabit the dark and finish the long nights among us.

For three days all will stop as we watch the shadow fall upon the stone, awaiting the sun’s joyous acceptance of our invitation to return to us, to once again climb to the zenith in our sky. Then we party, feasting on the bounty of the dark nights and upon the preserves from the long days; a feast of gratitude, of welcome, of hope.

The world continues.

These are also the beginning days of the hardest season. It is a season of black and white, of cold, snow. In the past many have died during this passage. Now we have learned to dress and to live well and how to shelter ourselves securely from the storms. Still it is a long and hard season. The Sun Feast turns it to anticipation of the green bud, then the rush of rivers.

In the clear nights I see the old stars of winter, the turkey calls from thickets heavy with snow. I know some trees are sleeping; some will give their clear blood for sweet syrup. I live surrounded by all the spirit of the earth. It is a time of rest, of peace, sleep for trees, for bears. The beaver are lodged. It can mean something about the day or the person if one is seen in this Season. The small streams stop, rest. The rivers and lakes pull blankets of ice over themselves and hide like the bear.

Much of the world is asleep.

Sky is, of course, never sleeping. She marches around us, telling us her stories and we see her moods, one in the stars, and one in the weather. One ancient and distant, one so near that sometimes the clouds hide the mountaintops. She is a woman with seasons, moods. She storms and shrieks, tossing over trees. She scours the land clean in torrents of rain or covers it for rest in the snow blanket. Her heart is sun and moon is her hunting dog, running ahead, then following. She howls, this sky, and sings softly. She cleans, she warms the very earth with her heart in the season of the green bud. Sometimes she lays her soft dew upon the ground by touching us with her cloud cape.

This is sky.

In all feasts and celebrations, of course, are the prayers and offerings to sky for she is the daughter of the every-in-all-one…the Nameless Joyful Mover. Long ago we had for this a name. We found that to be a bad thing; not like a crime, but we saw the name always made smaller the great expanse, the vastness of presence, the power. So we had a great council with all our nations. For days we spoke of it and agreed there would be no name, that we all knew we could speak of natures, of movement, of presence, and no more would we try to speak all and all in a word or phrase.

To stand each day upon a world I know as living. To walk in forest and know each tree and plant, each animal. To understand the place as loving, safe. To know it as a source of food, of shelter, of water, of life. To be one with it. To be present at any and all times to myself and the world in which I live as organs of the same being. For all this experience, this way of being in the world to be what I think WITH, how I just AM, not a conjecture or construct of mind. Not a way of looking but simply SO, the already/always, the IS. To BE that I am a being of all this being, this is my home, we love each other, we ARE each other. I, just as much as the rabbit, the bear, the bison came from her(e). We revere each other and care for each other, we are aware and know each other. We ARE that we belong here and are the parts, integral, organic inseparable parts of one whole living being.

The “wilderness” is home, not a dangerous place of hunger and thirst. How could one hunger in a vast organic food display? All of it is available: The plants, the animals, the water, the earth. I assume their awareness. As I know I am aware, so, I assume, are they. Spirit invests all. We speak of parts, aspects, ways of the great-all-everything-life-spirit-mind. We do so with care. Care to be inclusive not narrowing, care to hold ourselves open to more of the being and being with, not less. The “organs” of this being are invested with the spirit. Canyons, rivers, sky, earth, sun, the bear, the mouse, eagle, each plant and flower, the giant trees, all penetrated by spirit, invested with spirit. Each and all making spirit their own as spirit makes of them its own. One being with eyes that number like the stars, one being that knows “rock” because it IS Rock, that knows “cloud” because it IS. And I, I and spirit, just like all else and spirit, are one. We know each other that we are each other. In my words I say “me” and “spirit”. My mind can hear two words and treat them as two things. I say, “I know spirit and spirit knows me.” My mind separates “me” and “spirit” for hearing the language. There is no separation. I and spirit are one. I am a place of spirit, I see through my eyes, spirit sees through my eyes. Spirit is, and sees through bear, river, sky and bear sees with, by, and through spirit. I take my self to the great forest and sit with my back to the tree, bringing my body and his close and our spirit centers near. There is a difference in how our spirits are, his and mine; a different feel: His is slower, more even and I must sit a while and be with tree for my self, for my spirit to be with his. Then we can sense what was already so: We share spirit. Not A spirit, not THE spirit: What is me that if it left, would leave me not me, and what is tree that when it leaves, tree is not tree, is the same in its essence, different in its feel, its energy. Like water in a dewdrop, a rainstorm, a waterfall, a snowflake, an iceberg, a fogbank, in steam: Different expressions and states, same essence. In this world I live. Of this world am I a part. To this world do I belong and all vice versa. The spirits of all around me and mine are one and it is the spirit of all that and all else. Like a river of grass it is visible here, not there, deep here, not there, here this grows out of it, there, that does. It is all one thing flowing and I am of it.

This is where I live.

What gets me up each day? I hear the birds, the light comes up. I awaken because I am rested and finished sleeping. My bladder needs emptied and my belly filled. And my Days, of what are my days filled? I may hunt; I may work on art, on fashioning objects, things to use, gifts to give. I may help another with a job. What gives me my activities? Whatever is needed, wanted.

My people have conversations, small and large. Sometimes we meet in council, the oldest among us listen long and often speak last. Everyone brings something. Families or family groups may meet to talk of matters close to them and out of that meeting one or a few may go to meet with others from other families or groups to bring their views, to present the thinking of their family to the others. All are heard, their views considered, weighed on the beam against and with the interests and views of others and other families or groups. The older ones among us often listen silently. I have seen such listening stretch for hours. Sometimes they will ask questions, speak among themselves briefly. There is a council of our whole community in which there are people who bring the views, concerns, needs of all the families and groups. It meets when conversations are needed that affect all of us: moving, disputes with other communities, war, peace. These conversations may extend through many days until all that is to be said has been said. So that all may be considered and have its weight added to the balance. Everyone leaves having listened to all there is and having spoken all there is and having taken part in any deliberations and choices there are. Sometimes some will not agree with the choices but they all know how and why the choice was made and know their interests were included in the process.

In this way we live together.

Arise in the light to the songs of birds and children. Eat with our families and friends that which we gather from the place we live, including, during its season, that which we grow for ourselves. In their seasons we move. In spring we begin our move to the mountainsides and high valleys. This can be a hard journey but we know the high country will be better for living when the sun is high crossing the sky. We stay through summer in the high country. There is much food there and we prepare stores for the dark season. As the leaves turn and the peaks are frosted we travel to the south and to the lakes and streams of the plains and lowland forests. Sky tells us when and which way. We are always at home; we move though our home from place to place with the sun and the stars. Long ago we summered in the lowlands. Wintered in the mountains. Long ago we learned where the air is kindest, the weather best. There are stories of our learning days. We learn still of our home, ancient, sky dome, deep earth, flowing water. We still discover their voices, their spirit with ours. Each tree every stream, its place and its person are its character. We are at home. We are in and of our home all through our journeys. We sometimes visit friends in the forests or on the mountainsides: trees, streams, rocks, to sit with them again and feel our spirit together. There are canyons where many of us have felt similarly in our spirit. We go there together to listen and ask of the spirit we share. This we will bring back to the community, to the council. Some hear clearly rivers, some trees, some the sky. Some hear several and a few hear all.

So do we listen to our home.

I study the world around me, I watch the processes of my home. I see the beetle bore into the dead log, then, breaking open such a log, I find the tunnels connected through it and the eggs, the larvae crawling out and chewing the dead wood, leaving dust. I see this larva select a place and become a cocoon, a chrysalis, and I see the beetle emerge. This process I observe and learn, the birds, the deer, the sky and the weather, all around me I watch my world for centuries learning and teaching those who come after me. Thus is my world known to us and are we at home across its vastness. In steaming jungles, scorching deserts, ancient forests, upon the glistening ice and aboard tiny dots of land set in vast azure seas are we at home, familiar with the cycles of our cousins and friends.

We honor the spirit we share with our surroundings.

There are acknowledgements spoken, thanks given, prayers and sacrifices offered as we prepare to hunt. We call to the spirit of our quarry so they know we need their bounty of meat for food, so they can hear us coming to them and those who will can come to us and give themselves to us. They are great and powerful brothers and sisters, living also in the spirit we all share, and we are honored that they come to us for our use and comfort. We thank them. We thank the spirit all in everything, considering ourselves blessed and honored.

All and everywhere is the spirit, through and in the earth, the sea, the sky and in the ant, the squirrel, the deer, bison, bear, leaf, twig and branch, limb and tree. The very air is charged through and sometimes roars and tears until it splits with great searing flashes of light and roars the thunder across the lands and seas.

Such is the spirit.

To see the outside power and feel the inside presence, to know the sameness of the spirit throughout and across all, this but humbles and honors us and one or many of us may find ourselves paused and being with it at any time as we might pause to converse with or greet a friend or watch a storm over the prairie. We are all one inside, though different in our appearance. This we have found from long careful talks in pairs, families, councils. We are with the spirit as are we with our skins, our breath, our heartbeat. It lives through us and we through it. This is my world.

This is my life.

This is how I live my day and my time. How do I look at this? In the spirit, in the all in everything. I look across the living world and see it one in aspects appearing dissimilar. I see the same animating principle from the black stardusted winter sky to the endless blue depths of sea, from the ocean shore to river bank to lakeside to and to and to and know that of this I am, included as a vital part. There is only one “each” so all in everything may have eyes everywhere, ears hearing, foot upon the earth, everywhere. Each eye, each foot uniquely valuable: no other can see just that, is standing just there, hears so clearly this at just this time. This I am and of this am I we are one and each a part of all that is every one of us always in everything. We have special places, places special to us: some individual, some family, some as whole communities, which are especially evocative of the presence of this “so.” We go to these places in gratitude, in need, in inquiry, in joy, and grief, we to stop and be with all in everything for giving and receiving. The great falls in the smoking land, the canyon, among the giant trees, these are special places.

This is my world.

Laddie

First there was a luxuriously soft bright-eyed, eager bouncy puppy, sable with a pure white collar and bib, black “frosting,” and a white flash on his nose. Google up a picture of “Lassie.” That’s him.

 

Always original, we named him “Laddie.” He was my dog.

 

I don’t recall a lot of detail while he grew up, just fleeting moments of play, frolics at the beach …

 

I was seven. He was six weeks old and we grew up together. We played a lot, on that I’m clear. As he grew to full size I remember one of our favorite games was for him to grab one end of something and me the other and for him to literally drag me around the yard. He was a powerful guy.

 

He had a set of jaws. At the back of the long hall from the living room past the bedrooms was an old-fashioned Florida screen door. Black wood framed screen panels and the lower panel was backed with quarter inch “hardware cloth.” We left Laddie in the apartment one day and came back to find the lower corner of that wood frame nearly chewed through.

 

We took him along to a family get together, I think it was at my aunt Theresa and uncle Andy’s house in Sebring, and Laddie had to stay alone in a back room, separated from me and the rest of his family. He was distressed and vocal about it, disturbing the whole house. My father was enraged and punished him by pummeling him … and Laddie cowered and yiped in pain and fear.

 

I was devastated. He hurt my dog.

 

We lived upstairs and the apartment was not air conditioned, so in the summer the back door was open to the screen door for ventilation. Its shelter under the back porch and the awnings over the open windows at the front of the building allowed the hot and humid summer breezes through, and, during those potent Florida summer thunderstorms, brought us blessed cooling drafts. Laddie was standing just inside the back screen door one thunderous summer afternoon when lightning struck the huge fuse panel on the wall just outside the next door neighbors’ back door. The brightness of the flash, startling all the way into the living room, and the pounding crack of what can only really be called a detonation, not ten feet away, was indescribable. By listening for the distressed whines we found Laddie under the bed in my parents’ bedroom. He had dived under the bed at such velocity that he was wedged in a place he really didn’t fit. We had to lift the bed for him to crawl out.

 

He never was quite the same during thunderstorms after that.

 

Mom started nursing school. It was the return to her pre-War, pre-Marine Corps studies at St. Elizabeth’s in New York, which had been interrupted in a confrontation with an Autoclave, and part of my parents’ strategy to leverage our family upward into the Middle Class. Her practical class work at the Gordon Keller School of Nursing included shift work on the floors at Tampa General Hospital. I guess I was in the second grade and dad, by that time, was a traveling salesman for Gaylord and left Monday morning to work until returning Friday evening. I spent weeknights alone in the apartment.

 

Irma Morelock, who lived with husband Gene and daughter Sandy directly downstairs, would come upstairs and check on me each evening. Laddie knew Irma. He saw her daily … and nightly. She said he lay on the carpet in the middle of my room, between my bed and the door, and watched her quietly. She could come to the door and she could look in and he lay with his chin on his front paws, and all was peaceful. She said if she set foot inside the room his head came up and he rolled up off his side onto his haunches. If this woman Laddie saw every day and every night set another foot inside the room, the big ears lay back against the sides of his head and a very quiet, slow, even, bass-rich growl would rise from his chest. She never explored the matter further.

 

When corrugated shipping containers (what you call “cardboard boxes”) are cut from the blanks that are fed through the flexo’s, printer-slotters and die-cut machines, the process results in scraps where slots and vents and flaps are cut out and edges are trimmed. The factory has a vacuum system that evacuates this blizzard of scrap as it falls from under the machines, bails it and readies it for shipment back to the paper mill. That system failed at Gaylord and those scraps had to be gathered and hauled outside across Inman Avenue and dumped in a pile which swiftly grew into a huge cushiony stack in the vacant lot there. It was an artificial mountain range with valleys resilient enough to absorb the impact of a leap from a peak and it swiftly became a play attraction for the kids around the neighborhood. John Palios was a big kid. He also tended to be … rough … one of the “capos” in the local “playground mafia.” He and I and Laddie were playing on that stack one afternoon and John went to the top of one of the peaks and came hurtling down toward the valley, where Laddie was standing, tail wagging “doggie grinning,” and watching. When John ran past he reached out and slapped Laddie alongside the head. Laddie yiiiiped and, without ever taking a step lunged at Palios as he was running away. The result was two bloody stripes down John’s back where his shirt had been. He yelled and kept running.

That was the only time I ever saw Laddie respond to an attack against him. It was the day I learned what his canines could do.

 

It was a rough, blue-collar neighborhood with a host of characters that ranged from an evangelical Pentecostal preacher who tried to get me to hold the plug wire on an outboard motor while he pulled the starter rope to a family whose boys were expert craftsmen at building balsa, rubber band-powered free flight model airplanes, whose father was known to be seen around the house in bra and panties inviting kids “to the movies” in falsetto. Some of the kids were just plain old-fashioned mean and used to whack Laddie across the nose with sticks and such to the extent that he developed a permanent bump on his nose. He never laid paw or tooth on any child.

 

Mom finished nursing school and found well-paid work in the offices of doctors Hugh Steele and Marvin Miller. Dad turned out to be a fine salesman. Their strategy for upward mobility was working and they saved and looked. They found a newly-built three bedroom, one bath house on Wisconsin Avenue in Gandy Gardens, a neighborhood populated with officers and NCO’s from the air force base just a couple of miles down Dale Mabry Highway. I guess I was eleven.

 

It was the summer between 5th and 6th grade and I went from Gorrie Elementary to a brand new Sidney Lanier Elementary, which opened overcrowded and Mr. Lamb’s 6th grade class, along with the entire rest of the sixth grade, was trooped across the parking lots to the next-door Monroe Junior High School where we maintained elementary school days in the midst of a school running on a junior high schedule.

 

Laddie became an “outside” dog, his headquarters on the open concrete patio behind the living room and between the kitchen and my bedroom. The next door neighbors were an Air Force family. He was a Captain who flew nuclear-armed B-47 bombers for the Strategic Air Command, she was a Military Housewife, and the two boys were just about and just a little younger than my age. They had a female Collie who lived indoors or chained to a column at the corner of their back porch. Laddie was a “free range” canine. He lived on a diet of straight canned Ken-L-Ration which he would leave until he starved if I didn’t tell him to go ahead and eat.   Soon there appeared a depression in the grass about 18 inches away from and all the way along and around the outside walls of our house. It was the path where Laddie walked … patrolled … through the night.

 

He had one bad habit, aside from the throaty, soulful serenade he rendered at the sounding of any siren anywhere any time. See, he was wearing a full-length heavy fur coat … all the time … and he liked to find cool damp earth to lay in. Made sense … but if he couldn’t find some, he made some … most frequently by excavating the flower beds. The result looked like a small bomb crater. I would come home from school and he’d be lying in a crater in one of the front flower beds. Over and over I yelled at him and over and over he’d dig a hole to lie in. One afternoon I lost it and I just wailed the tar out of him … screaming at him the whole time … then I shunned him for about three days. I was furious and any time he’d approach me I’d walk away. He was devastated and increasingly anxious … and he never went near any of the beds again.

 

Laddie loved kids. There was no way to harm a child within his awareness. He simply wouldn’t allow it.

 

One day when Laddie was six or seven and I was about thirteen a man beat his son on the walk in front of our house. He had seized the boy by the arm and held him as he struck him repeatedly. The boy was screaming and the man was yelling. There was a hurtling sable and white blur that coursed around the corner of the house from the back yard. I never really had a chance to utter a sound and Laddie was on the guy like a linebacker. It was all fur and arms and feet and growls and yells. The next few seconds are … fuzzy … and next I remember Laddie held by his collar and one VERY pissed off and thoroughly shaken man screaming things. My father was outside, most of the neighbors were too, and the guy showed my father two stark purple marks on his thigh where he insisted Laddie had bitten him. The ugly purple stripes were an inch apart. The skin wasn’t broken. Laddie’s canines were somewhere just outside two inches apart. Remember John Palios? I knew what those canines could do and what it looked like when they did. Those were not from a bite. They were from his nails. Laddie had basically taken him down with a punch at mid-thigh and held him down with simple domination.

 

My father freaked. A lawsuit would destroy my parents’ decade of labor that had opened the door to the Middle Class for our family. No one was interested in the logic of my argument.

 

Laddie had to go.

 

We had occasionally boarded him at Glenn Garverik’s kennel up Highway 41 in Land-o-Lakes and they called Glenn, who really liked the dog a lot, and asked him to take Laddie and find him a new home. He agreed.

 

I was utterly devastated, and lay sobbing at night in abject despair …

 

I never knew, until years later, that Glenn had called a few weeks later. Laddie was bereft, grieving … and pining … and my parents told him to put my dog down.

 

10 12 12

I May Fly

It is late twilight.

The fiery golden sunset sky lives again on the mirror surface of the small, still lake.

Around the shoreline tall trees stand in jet black relief.

I am on a long, narrow dock that stretches out of the building on my left and parallels the shore. Grainy, grey with age, the planks march away toward the end, which is over the water.

From my hands what appears a shapeless, featureless cloth hangs limply.

I know different. I cannot prove, nor have I demonstrated that this … is a wing.

Looking at it one would be stupid to even hint that that’s what it is. That I know lives in a domain of belief, hope, suspicion, and it is obviously stupid to believe, hope OR suspect that this is a wing.

Yet just as certain as doubtful am I that it is, and I know that to reveal its true nature I must run to the end of the dock, toss it into the air, and throw myself upon it full length as it spreads.

This is obviously absurd!

and yet …

I may fly!

So, running at full speed out the dock, still in doubt, just as I reach the end I toss the cloth into the air ahead of me … and

leap … fully extended, irrevocably committed, with all my doubts and fears along … onto the middle of the fluttering, falling sheet.

Instantly momentum fails, velocity drops, I fall into the folds. As my weight presses into it, it becomes a surface, arching upward and outward away from the center on both sides. It is stretched taught, drum-like, and silently riding the soft, invisibly rushing air.

It is clear. It is bright … and I … am …. flying.

A dream from long ago

Apogee

                               

 

Swirl and eddy, eddy and swirl.

 

For whiles that pass, arrow true and swiftly go I along, deft and supple, keen and true.

 

How, then, looking about, do I find my way is tangled about the briar and becalmed?

 

And when? 

 

How in so singing true a flight, bends the path onto itself and even unbeknownst recurs and recurs and recurs … unfading echo?

 

And all along so true, straight and razor keen, fiercely onward, by leaps and soaring flights to somehow find, at apogee of arching leap

 

The ankles fettered as by finest silk, so soft as to all but melt from sight

 

Yet sufficient.

 

Wings to be but elegant epaulets carved upon the shoulders of a marble bust, vision cloistered to the keep, utterly spent upon solitary pebbles …

One    by     one.

 

Captured by each to gaze and gaze and, dawning, realize oneself again at pitch and singing speed, free and soaring upon the open sky, dimension upon dimension there, teased, even springing from the tangle so recently about.

 

From each the other, always birth given unknown and seen only when past.

 

One the fertile rooting for the others’ springing forth to be the fertile rooting … and the farmer never knows the seed!

 

Swirl and eddy, eddy and swirl …

Drawn

 

Softly

It is my heart that is drawn

                                      To the forests.

 

My mind                          goes along

                             And chatters           and learns

                                    And remembers

 

                             And is          sometimes    silent.

 

Deep,  though, at the core of the me

                             I know         unchanging

is that which is drawn by the Earth

                             As it was…

 

The memory, distant,        lives   … not

                             in my mind, in the day-to-day

                             comment and description

 

So clear, yet so distant, so

                             Immediate    and so soft

Power, drawing palpably the nuclear

                             Kernel around which I am

 

                             coalesced.

 

As if back to its conception called

                             By the mother of its being

 

The sweet and aching joy of the

                                      Source                             unaltered.

Grand and sweeping.        Limitless       in

                  

                             Power and scope     and    so

                  

                             Intricately     delicately

 

                             Incalculably                                subtle.

 

The web woven of   Balance                           and

                             Motion                                      never same

                             never different                  every effect             

                             causing                            each cause

 

                             effecting

 

Infinite Wonder.

 

Calls … draws    me                to know        Not

                             who am I who describes,

                             though I may witness my descriptions.

 

                             Not

                             who am I that is the cause

                             and effect     of mind.

 

                             Though this mind might see

                             Itself in the clarity

 

                                                No…

 

Indescribably small           luminously present

                   Constantly at bed    rock

                                                Center

 

                   Crystal Radiant                          at rest

 

                   and afloat                                  somehow

 

                   both   there and   not there

 

                   The placeless place around which

 

                   I am a body in space and time…

 

Is sweetly drawn to the denning wolf

And the soaring hawk, the cranes’ ballet

The cheeta’s grace and the mother elephant’s

                             Tender caress

 

 

Outside of knowing is the Being One

Of the Earth and Our Family of

Life              that grew here.

 

The seeing the family                  of care

                   And provision                            affection

                   Kindred        protection

 

                   The giving up and passing on

                   Of life                              through eons.

 

The immediate        living            connectedness

 

It is my heart that is drawn to the forests.

His Passing


 

Sometimes in mid-October Florida the dawn comes softly gray, gathering slowly across the cool woods, dripping from the nighttime rain.  Deep greens glisten and crystal drops patter to earth with each stirring of sweet, cool Autumn breeze.

 

          The river is a glassy, dimpled, ebony mirror, silently reflecting the blanketing sky, the cradling trees.  In the rapids the mirror creases, folds, and the sky disappears, leaving only a silver frost of bubbles around the ancient rocks.

 

          One can walk silently to its banks and listen, and look……

 

          and God is there.

 

          On such a morning, far upstream, I saw an old familiar craft.  It seemed adrift, borne along as incidentally as the occasional Autumn leaf.  On board was the pilot, a vital, strapping lad of good humor, sharp eye and great skill.  He seemed puzzled, surprised.

 

          A closer look revealed his state.  The great engine, though running, could not make way, the planks were shrunken, the frames showed through, the tiller was cracked and a broken, useless rudder pushed lazy swirls around the stern.

 

          He knew this stretch of river.

         

          He’d taken others through….but

 

          Always as the pilot,

 

          A leader in a crew.

 

          And now is he a passenger, a captive and afloat,

 

          Aboard a tried and trusted craft, this powerlessly drifting boat.

 

When I could hear, he said he wanted to go ashore, but the water was too wide and  no one could help him.  All that could be done was to stay alongside and be of what comfort we could.

                              

          At the head of the rapids the great river narrows to a single passage and it’s hard to realize how fast it has become…

 

                                      or how powerful.

 

It was tough to stay alongside but we managed, and even at times fended the impossibly careening vessel off of rocks and trees as it rose and fell on the surging

torrent.  But greater and greater was the grief in its passage and the toll was exacted and he ran from side to side and cried, “Let me out!” and grasped at the rails and the tiller to make the old craft once again carry him over the danger.

 

          And though the great engine would not quit, neither could it power the boat…

 

          Nor the boat carry him over the danger.         

         

          The engine would not cease                 

                            

          Nor the pilot would release, and the struggle,

 

          The struggle…

 

          The Struggle was heroic.

 

          On and on, tossed and rolling deeply, turning, rising and falling back, the inexorable passage stretched.

 

          He grasped and clutched, pulled and tugged at whatever fell under his grip moment by moment.  Seeming at times to realize the futility, he would briefly cease and be still, his eyes cast upward as if searching his beloved sky.

 

 

          Again and again he redoubled the fight, but the old boat was failing and no skill, no grit, no rage or plea, no simple dogged unflagging persistence served to alter its course or condition. 

                                 

          He called from time to time to those he knew or had known but I heard no answer.  He tired and his efforts lessened but he ceased not to rouse himself and fall and rouse himself and fall.

 

          And the river, the benignly indifferent, silent, coursing current, bore him along unawares.  Thus had it run and thus would it run, without malice or haste, favor or pause.  It rolled as the ages, bearing along all that was upon it with equanimity and certainty be it fallen leaf, hewn timber or brave and broken boat.

 

At the foot of the rapids there is a quiet pool where the great power reaches plumbless depths, the current slows and once again the towering sky shows upon the

river’s silent face.  There, at long last, the great old boat drifted silently, floating at lazy, peaceful ease, without direction or haste.

 

The tired and failing engine, still at work, rattled and sputtered deep inside the battered, drifting hull.

 

          He lay quietly, no more to do.  When his eyes were open they were set now upon the other shore and the cool Autumn breeze coaxed the vessel there.  At some length and at great distance from us, the keel slid softly and firmly aground there,  the engine was stopped, the rudder lay over in the shallows and a vast and peaceful silence overtook us all.  After a moment I believe I saw him rise.  He stepped across onto the other shore, standing straight, and joined a gathering of people there, some of whom, even across that great distance, I thought I knew.  He was greeted all around, as though being congratulated and welcomed home and after a time no one was there.

 

          We gathered up the spent and shattered hull and set to it a great consuming fire.  It blazed briefly, giving light and warmth, and collapsed into a cooling heap of fine blowing ash which we gathered and took up to the brow of a broad sunny hill and made there its final berth.

The Coast Guard

At some point along the way in high school I did a report of some kind on the Coast Guard Academy … and I suppose I entertained some notion about going there.

After graduating from Brandon, I ritually trotted within the “preppie” herd and headed for “college.” In two rich and rewarding terms I demonstrated convincingly that I was “not ready for prime time,” … so to speak. I found a totally unexpected and welcome social group … numerous talented, bright, open people … and I hung out there, in “The Lounge.” More about that elsewhere.

Now … I like to say that my “Uncle” … y’know, the one with the red white and blue top hat? … white beard? … points a lot? … always on about who he “wants?”… you’ve seen’im … yeah … that one. Well, he was stalking the land in those days in search of able, young men … and conscripting them, training them to kill or be killed, and sending them about half way around the world to a place where they died by the hundreds weekly.

I was about to become what you call “1-A” … fresh, strapping, steerable meat. I knew it, too.

… and it scared the shit outa me.

Now, I had been raised by two (count’em … 2) United States Marines, one of whom was in combat with soldiers of the Empire of Japan contesting possession of a remarkable island we call “Guam” as part of a little dustup we all called “WWII.” I did understand honorable service and … I always wondered if it was just me but … it seemed there was a certain glorification of “war” in the culture. It seemed to me that the fact was, you just weren’t a “Man” … if you didn’t end up in combat somewhere. For me, the notion of combat was … I think … very much an expected “Rite of Passage” to manhood and that was strong in me.

… so was the abject terror of knowingly placing myself somewhere I knew there were armed, capable people waiting to do their very best to kill me.

… and as strong as the abstract “killer duty” was … the horror at killing someone … being expected, trained, required, … tasked … to kill another person, along with the urgent terror at the prospect of putting myself where I knew people were trying to kill me … uhhhh … mmmmotivated, I think is a good word … yes … yes … most definitely: motivated me to Find Another Way to handle the Fact that I WAS going to be required to be in the military … I could choose: I could “volunteer” … orrrrrr … be DRAFTED!!

Yes, sir … it seemed a rich field of choices that lay before me. Oh, I can see now that I did have “other alternatives” … but I din’ WANNA live in Canada … and that “beat–my-knee-with-a-two-by-four” thing? … that … naaahhhhh … The whole point is to avoid physical injury … itnit ??

… and I … I had a “Superman” cape … it completed my (Thank you, Paul for this exquisite visual.): Savior Suit …

In my fantasies and in my dreams throughout my childhood I was a magnificent superhero … rescuing damsels (yes … I knew what a “damsel” was in utero, I think …) I flew and acted with irresistible strength intervening and steadfastly thwarting the most powerful “Evil” to protect and recover the cherished … and hence, adoring … Tender Young Woman.

… and there … was the Coast Guard … you know: Stout Boats with Strong Men braving the Fury of the Sea to act in the rescue of People in Trouble.

Flying spray … leaping boats … grateful people … (no one was shooting at me) … military service … (no one was shootingat … me… )

2 + 2 = COAST GUAAAAARRRRRRD …

To this day, there is a twinge … “Coward” … and, y’know what? … I’ll own that.

Yes, I was a coward … still am in some ways … and I looked at my situation and I calculated a choice that I deemed in my best interest. I was not pissed off enough at the Vietnamese people to travel nearly half way around the world to kill them. I have since discovered that I am capable of being that pissed at someone, and at the time … nahh …

… so I enlisted. Went to the office, took the tests, signed, and I was in the Coast Guard. I was in the military.

There ensued a tenderly touching, heart-rending, and lengthy “Goodbye” to that community, to those people I had met in “110 Southcourt Lounge,” including one tiny fascinating woman with whom I had become utterly smitten … and that’s a whooollllle other story … then I stood with hand raised and took the oath.

I guess I flew to Philadelphia. Now … I think the farthest, up to that point in my life, that I had ever ventured from my home … alone … was the day I wandered off in North Bergen and ended up in the police station being entertained by a Sergeant who drew things, while we waited for my family to come and collect their three … four? … year old, so boarding an airplane and flying to Philadelphia … alone … one way … was prêt-ty damned “freaky”…

The instructions were to go to the bus station in Philadelphia and board a bus to Cape May, New Jersey. I think it was a cab ride from the airport into downtown but, hell … I was just barely conscious by that time …

… and I was walking around in the middle of Philadelphia … my cracker ass effectively incandescent as I rubbernecked and pulled pieces of paper from my pockets to peer at street signs and numbers … and I could NOT find the bus station …

I had no iDEA where that thing was … and I was standing on the sidewalk peering first one way and then the other up and down the rumbling city street, trying to figure out where I was when from very close behind me there was a blast from an air horn …

It was a bus

… I was standing between the bus and the street, in the “Departure” drive of the Union Bus Station in Philadelphia … PA.

Oh …

There’s the bus station …

It seems like a dark bus ride to Cape May … but that may have just been my mood … because I remember arriving at the United States Coast Guard Recruit Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey on a grey, drizzling, VERY chilly 26th of May day. Grey … 46 degrees … raining … May 26, 1966.

We left the bus under the … instruction … of several khaki-clad gentlemen with very very clear notions as to what precisely must be done and what is absolutely, emphatically NOT to be done.

Reality began to blur and the rather shy, smart, suburban cracker kid from White Bread, U.S.A. increasingly became a highly attentive and compliant, even eager … military trainee … I became a guy living in a room with fifty-some other guys … maybe more, I don’t remember … a guy with clothes that looked exactly like everyone else’s clothes and a shaven head … just like everyone else’s.

… a guy who either ran, or gathered a “squad” and marched to called cadence, at any time he was outside moving from one place to another … which was almost constantly.

The physical aspect was very nearly brutal. Early on we, we recruits, we stood in ranks, many companies, all the incoming companies … in a single huge formation and we did calisthenics, “brisk” and extensive calisthenics in sets, long, vigorous sets … and if someone fell out of rhythm, failed to carry out a movement or maybe didn’t stop at the correct time, the set was repeated … and … y’know … repeated … and … y’know …

for a lonnnnnnngggg time. In that way I became so completely and stiffly bone-deep and painfully sore that I would not sit down if the opportunity might last less than maybe ten minutes, because it took me about that long just to sit down (especially on the floor (DECK, SIR!!) because if we were in the squad bay … one did NOT sit on the “racks.”) and stand back up.

I lived in that squad bay with those men for a while, long enough to have our “Recruit Company Commander” … fail and have the D.I. call me to the desk and offer me the position … and for me to decline.

I had been told “The Way” to go through boot camp was to get into the Honor Guard and there was a tryout where anyone who wanted to could perform certain specific things for review and potentially be selected to be in the Honor Guard. Down to the shady end of the huge three story block barracks and put in formations of four, we marched … for form, pace, bearing … to “silent cadence.” Then we lined up, shoulder to shoulder along the walk, ”dressed right,” and the squad stood before us, one holding a Springfield ’06 bolt action rifle with a bayonet affixed. The “drill” was … “He’s gonna toss you this rifle. YOU are going to catch it in your right hand.”

OK …

… and I watched out the corner of my eye as they progressed toward me down the walk along the rank and it was just an underhand toss from alongside the leg. No big thing …

He stood in front of me and the rifle flew. Short … and low …

I set one foot crisply forward, bent at the waist, reached out and down and seized the rifle in midair by the front hand grip with my right hand, about three inches from the concrete, caught it cleanly, stood and stepped back with the rifle butt on the deck beside my right foot and the bayonet along the front of my upper arm, at attention.

I was in the Honor Guard.

Homeward

    What had begun in the cold, rainy, damp-gray late May adjourned in the humid, stifling-hot mid-July in Cape May, New Jersey in 1966.

                                                   “Boot camp.”

    Eight weeks, abbreviated from the twelve or more week peacetime regimen to meet the demands of the Vietnam War. Eight weeks of some of the most intense experience this lifetime offers. At last complete. I was IN the Coast Guard … I was “G.I.”

    I don’t even remember my own graduation.

    The airlines were on strike. Nothing was flying from Philadelphia to Tampa. I never even considered a train. Whatever moved “South” first … I wanted to be ON IT. Dad had tried to get the company jet to come get me and fly me to Tampa, an AMAZING thing for him even to be ABLE to request, but at the time, the honor the man was paying me never registered.

He was trying to get me a private jet to take me home from boot camp.

That’s what y’call, “Cool!”

    Anyway, the first thing smokin’ southbound was a Greyhound bus out of Philly. Sea bag, “AWOL” bag, “Parade” dress whites and spit-polished “Drills,” Seaman Apprentice John E. Gillmore, Jr. fresh from eight weeks of military training (that put the final patina on the previous 19 years at home with two (that’s “2” …) World War II veteran United States Marines) did eagerly climb aboard a Greyhound Sceni-cruiser one late mid-July afternoon in 1966 at the Union bus station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

    I don’t remember leaving … hell, I don’t remember getting on the bus … or being at the bus station, except as brief, still flashes of individual moments, like vivid but fleeting slides. What do I think I do remember? It was HOT … Mid-July-in-the-coastal-northeast sopping, oppressive HOT … and I got on that bus … that bus that was leaving toward home!

    I swear, if a “honey wagon” with no air conditioning had moved toward Florida in those moments, I would have jumped aboard the tank and clung to the dripping hoses.

    There are sharply focused, intense little pictures of rose yellow street light and headlights and deep black sky, and of the inside of the bus, which seemed in those early hours pleasant enough, not much different from my few brief experiences of airline cabins. I seem to remember “blue-gray” … upholstery, and shiny light gray plastic window frames set in a sort of fuzzy side panel the same colors as the rest of the interior.

I got the window seat, deep under the overhead racks.

    Beside me? At first I have no idea and, soon, we stopped, it seems, and a young black woman and her toddler girl got aboard. I remember a crisp white little dress on the toddler and little white shoes. She was beautiful … as was her mother.

    I had read a novel, I think it was “Eternal Fire,” in which there was a supremely “evil character” named Harry Diadem. It was a very powerful … “stimulatingly” impactful … story for a guy just out of high school. Harry was the most utterly corrupt, amoral, IMmoral, criminal character I had ever encountered, and he was definitely the most powerful, sexually predatory character, with his numbered conquests and scoring system for his exercise in psychopathic self-gratification actually hand-written in a journal. In one scene that galvanized my testosterone-blazing Id Harry sat beside a young, innocent woman on a bus. As the trip progressed he began to shove his hand under her as she sat. You may conclude the scene at your leisure … the novel was more intense than that.

I know that by now you may be able to see where this is going … you may wish to return to your previous activity.

    Here, the recollection seems to occur in two clearly incompatible streams. On the one hand I remember that beautiful young black woman and her angelic toddler daughter boarding the bus in what seems to be the early morning sunshine. I also recall that, as we cleared Philly I started to sing “Sloop John B” … strictly manipulative behavior … even up to the point of asking “… if you mind if I sing.” Deep into it …

“No.” was the answer … “In fact you’re quite good.”

    This portion of what was developing into a karmic vision trek becomes a bit … segmented? Suffice it to say that I did, indeed, attempt to put my hand under this young woman’s buttocks as she sat beside me, rumbling along.

    Y’know, I have no idea what happened. I think she chose to simply, utterly and absolutely ignore me. My own approach/avoidance to my outrageous behavior was such that I don’t think it took much to persuade me that this really wasn’t a good idea, and it was ab so LUTE ly NOT going to play out as did the scene in the book.

    We rolled along … scenes flash by. Down a highway through the mountains in, I guess it was, North Carolina, in a driving rainstorm over roads that appeared to the eye as a jet black glistening ebony sheet. I was near enough the driver to be able to read the big, round speedometer: Eighty five … or just a little better … miles per hour that is, down the winding mountainside Interstate in the pouring rain over the broad ebony-mirror pavement among the cars, trucks … a bus … careened through the dim stormy … hot … afternoon. We passed a horrid, meat-rending, obviously high-speed wreck and as we crawled by I got to look down at the mangled, now-bloodless leg hung from under the white sheet, still crumpled into the dark remains of the demolished car. We crawled past … and resumed our hurtling flight through the pouring rain.

    The air conditioning aboard had failed, at least partially, and the passengers had popped open the tilt-in top vent windows. It brought a continuous buffeting flow of saturated, heated air and an almost constant spray of light mist into the bus and so we rolled: wilted, heated, in the constant bluster of the open windows, increasingly damp in the blowing mist.

    The driver insisted that the air conditioning would cool the cabin. All we had to do is close all the windows, he said. All we had to do was seal ourselves, careening along the ebony slick in a mid-July rainstorm, into the bus with the other … I really don’t know how many, but I don’t remember any empty seats … passengers, sealed in with the damp, the heat … people … lots and lots of people.

We did.

Uh uh … nnno … nope … huh uh … that was NOT happening. It was a hurtling sauna packed with one-day-past-fresh travelers and there was little tolerance for the resulting, uhhh … air quality …

… and soon … quite soon … the vents were once again tilted open and the blustery, saturated, spray-laden summer afternoon was among us.

    Among my fellow travelers, riding in the center of the seat that crossed the very rear of the passenger cabin, was a black man who boarded in Philly carrying a nice, nearly full-sized, suitcase. It was, it turned out, filled from side to side with fifths of Johnny Walker Red, which he proceeded to open, and drink. The result was just what you might expect and soon we were southbound with an utterly, insensately, ramblingly typical drunk. He continued to drink the Red label scotch, I suppose just as you would a Coke, and benumbed himself through drunkenness into unconsciousness. There was quiet at the rear of the bus.

    When he awoke … regained consciousness … he reached into his nice new bag and began again.

    We stopped from time to time. I don’t recall much other than a brief bright frame of inside light spilling out through a diner’s window past a dark brick wall onto the floor of the inside of the bus station, a sort of cool, lemon-yellow lamp in the dark. As we boarded, ready to resume the already-tedious trek, the drunk dropped an unopened fifth of Johnny Walker Red in the back of the bus and it shattered. The bus was unfit for human habitation.

That’s all.

… and we had to change buses. Greyhound had to locate another coach, offload our luggage and reload and … hell, I don’t know how long it was.

The bus we ended up with?

… was the one aboard which we’ve been careening, stifling, down the rainy mountain asphalt luge.

He was a popular guy.

    At some point I did get to talk to that young lady, astonishingly enough. As we talked her beautiful toddler daughter watched and commented from time to time and became very much a part of our conversation, scrambling back and forth between our laps. I think I tilted my seat back in the dark and she reached for me. Momma looked over and said, “Is it OK?”

    “Yes.” and, in a moment of life that floats free of all time, independent of all geography, that child came to me and lay upon my chest … and fell softly asleep. I can still feel her heartbeat and the sweet, clear warmth of her at my heart, the small arms akimbo and the hands at rest on my shoulders, my chest as her pillow.

    It transfixes me to this day. There is no language adequate to offer the … I’m sorry, I wish there was another word, this one being so very overused … utter profundity of those hours.

… and through the night, naps and brief glimpses of dark interior and streams of light flashing, a beautiful child slept in utter trust in safety, her heart upon my heart.

In the sunny next morning, mother and child reached their destination and left our grimy trudge.

    In Savannah I got off the bus. My sparkling “Parade” dress whites looked like I had successfully camouflaged myself in a dust pile, or had perhaps just wrestled someone on the floor of an abandoned factory. We were headed for Jacksonville. I was nearing Florida.

“How long between Jacksonville and Tampa?”

“Eight hours.”

… another “night in th’ box.” (“Cool Hand Luke” reference … One of the perks of being on a ship is they send you first-run flicks … which we projected on a screen on the fantail and all lounged around on the deck and lay in hammocks to watch … “Cool Hand Luke” … at sea, at night … but, I both digress … and get over a year ahead of myself … try that … ;<)

    No … fucking … way! That particular shit is NOT happening!! I am NOT reaching Jacksonville deep in the second dark night of this now fetid, rumpled and bone-weary trek and still have eight …hours … to ride.

I found a phone.

    “Hey … It’s John … look … I’m leaving Savannah in just a little while headed for Jacksonville? I am getting OFF … THIS FUCKING BUS … in Jacksonville. If you’re there, I’d VERY much like a ride home. If not … I’ll WALK!!”

    So, I never got my ride in the Weyerhaeuser corporate jet, but their top Florida account manager and his wife swept from Brandon across the Florida summer late night in his company “limo” to Jacksonville, met me and carried me home.

    I changed uniforms in a toilet stall in the bus station “Men’s Room” in Savannah, a feat that required the balance of a Wallenda and the balletic precision of a Nureyev, and arrived in Jacksonville for the “Marine Reception” in starched, creased whites and only sliiiiiightly scuffed “spit” shined Drills, shouldering a regulation-rolled sea bag, gripping an AWOL bag with the crossed, bayoneted Springfield rifles of the United States Coast Guard Recruit Training Center Honor Guard emblazoned thereupon, a suitably raked “salty” hat, and a freshly-melted, blown-wide-open heart, of which, incredibly upon reflection, I remained almost utterly unaware for many, many ensuing years.

… and that, I guess, was the end of that beginning.

10 9 12

“Being” (on a team) in the Rain

I learned to “be” in the rain on a small, beautiful, green island in the Carolines we called “Yap.”

Oh, sure, I had been “CAUGHT” in the rain, but generally, rain was something to get OUT of.

We were stationed on Guam aboard the Mallow, a 180’ multipurpose, seagoing buoy tender, ice breaker and cargo ship, and part of our mission was to handle logistics for a huge piece of the western Pacific Ocean. For reasons I never knew, there was a need on that beautiful green island for as much 145 octane aviation fuel … “Avgas” … as you could pile onto a 180’ buoy tender.

                                  The United States Coast Guard Cutter Mallow WLB 396

So we went to work.

Steel 55 gallon drums, each weighing somewhere near 500 pounds … in this case full of one of the most explosively flammable fuels in the world … are handled in sets by a steel chain device we called a “barrel chine.” The chine is devised so that it can pick up as many as four 55 gallon drums at a time, on their sides. Each drum we loaded had to be tipped from standing to lying on its side and rolled into place among three others. Then the chines were hooked over the rims of the barrels and 220 gallons (about a ton) of 145 octane Avgas was lifted, suspended, swung through the air and placed on the steel deck of the ship. Each barrel was then rolled across that steel deck and tipped back upright into its position among the growing load.

We started as far aft on the buoy deck as we could, right up against the turtleback, and we stocked 55 gallon drums of Avgas snugly against each other in a growing uniform blanket forward across the deck. We tucked as many of them on that buoy deck as we could, right up under the fo’c’sle.

Then we stacked another layer on top of that one. One hundred twenty six lifts.

Five hundred and four steel 55 gallon drums of Avgas sat strapped down on a steel deck in the tropical sun. Twenty seven thousand gallons of Avgas, in steel drums, sat either on a steel deck, or stacked on another layer of steel drums, in the sun, in Guam.

We dragged out every single fire hose and fog nozzle aboard. A fog nozzle is a fire suppression tool that turns water from a fire hose into a fog that is actually dense enough to cause difficulty breathing. It smothers flame. We lashed them to the stanchions along the aft edge of the 01 deck on the foc’sle. We lashed them to the boom, facing both directions. We lashed them to everything we could possibly lash them to and we hooked them up to the VERY high pressure VERY high capacity salt water fire fighting pumps.

… and we “set sail.”

There was “No Smoking on the weather decks.”

Clearing the sea buoy out of Apra Harbor we turned for Yap. Crossing over the Challenger Deep in the Marianna Trench, we bore south through the afternoon and the drums heated on the buoy deck as we shouldered our way across a beautiful calm Pacific Ocean under a full tropical sun. As the Avgas evaporated in the heat, pressure built in the drums and their steel ends would “reset” under that pressure, producing a loud, deep, resonant, metallic “PLANNK!”

Those drums that reset were now pressurized containers full of Avgas, each holding a head of heated vaporized aviation fuel under pressure.

After the sun set, throughout the relative cool of the deepening night, the pressure dropped in those drums and the steel ends would “reset” again, with the same resounding, loud, metallic “PLANNK.” It was audible in every corner of the ship except the engine room, where the two eight-foot-high gray Buddha engines cranked away.

We reached Yap in the afternoon of the next day.

… and as we arrived it started to rain.

Now, people who’ve lived in Florida for a while have seen this kind of rain. Water cascades from the clouds in volumes that seem to fill the air to near capacity. There is no wind … there is no lightning … just a constant, unchanging, rushing straight down pour. Distant sounds simply don’t reach through the cascade, and the location becomes very close as the rain also restricts visibility to a few dozen yards. Everything past the near distance is simply a uniform silver gray. It seems impossible that that much water could fall from the clouds that constantly for that long.

… and it does.

As a Florida native I had seen such rain … but it was something you “came in out of” unless you “didn’t have enough sense.” If it was raining like that, things didn’t happen. People didn’t go to church. Eighteen wheelers pulled off roads seeking safe shelter. You only went out there if … say … your house caught fire.

“Rain” like that was for “getting out of.”

… and we reached Yap in the afternoon, and it rained … it just … poured … and it was time to offload five hundred and four 55 gallon drums of 145 octane aviation fuel, tipping them onto their sides, rolling them into place, and hooking them up four at a time to be lifted off the steel below them, either the first layer of barrels or the steel deck itself, and swung off across the rail and onto the dock, where each load of four was set down on the concrete, and each barrel rolled into place and set back upright.

There was no “rain gear.” It would have been useless, almost like wearing a poncho in a swimming pool but not quite. We just walked outside into the rain dressed in dungarees and hardhats and shirtless except for “working” life vests … and were just about instantly soaked to the skin, almost as fast as if we’d just jumped overboard. Even our steel toed boots were full.

… and we tipped, and rolled, and hooked up, and lifted, swung, set down and rolled into storage 504 500 pound, steel 55 gallon drums of Avgas in a rain that would have drowned a catfish …

grinning like mules eating cactus.

It … was … WONDERFUL! A nice warm tropical downpour, and … you couldn’t have struck a spark out there with an arc welder.

It was almost a dance and we grinned and dripped and wrestled and tipped and clinked and swung and easily, efficiently, swiftly and expertly got that 27,000 gallon bomb OFF OUR SHIP.

Five hundred four ON … 126 lifts … five hundred four OFF … another 126 lifts… flawlessly. Two hundred and fifty two lifts. Not one … single … slip … drop … bump … not … one.

… and that was the day I learned to “be” ( on a team ) in the rain.

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